I’m So Glad I Was Wrong— A letter to my daughter
I used to rock you in my arms when you were a baby, and imagine the woman you’d become. You would be popular, but not too popular. You’d be smart, witty, independent, and funny. You would be a natural leader. I knew you’d always be beautiful. As you know, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. I had no doubt I was the perfect person to raise you to make better choices and suffer less. I had foolproof plans to help you identify and maneuver yourself around the potholes I fell into.
I was going to help ensure your happiness and success! I had no doubt you would let me help you.
What I didn’t count on was how much you would grow up to be just like me. I was ill prepared for confrontation with my own brand of stubbornness and sarcasm. I didn’t expect to have to fight so hard for the right to help you through some of life’s difficult moments. I didn’t envision rejection in response to my selfless offers to guide you; to mold you into that amazing woman I knew you could be – the woman I wanted you to be.
I couldn’t see how selfish and closed minded those ideas were. I thought I was trying to help you. I didn’t think of the possibility that you were better equipped to make the right choices I didn’t at your age.
And so I yelled.
Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. I knew you weren’t listening to me – to reason – and I was afraid you’d ruin that beautiful picture I had for your future; that selfish picture I never actually factored you into. So, instead of trying to support the decisions I didn’t agree with, I tried to force my will into the situation. When you held your ground, I yelled some more.
I yelled because I was terrified. The more you pushed against boundaries, the more fearful I became.
There were many times I over-identified with what you were facing. I swear it wasn’t on purpose or to take away from your feelings, but I know it did. I thought if I could just convince you that I knew, that I understood you, that you would trust me more and fight me less. Having had some time to reflect, I understand now how that might have minimized your feelings and individuality. I swear to you, I didn’t see it.
Now that I do, I don’t blame you for pushing me away.
I know there were times you believe I failed as your mother. I’ve worried about that possibility since you were born. Being a mom is hard; sometimes beyond terrifying. There’s no manual or script to follow. I’ve often parented by braille — just feeling my way around for answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask. The frustration and fear I felt, not always knowing what you needed and/or how to help you, left me feeling useless. Some nights, I heard myself screaming things at you I could not believe were coming out of my mouth.
I know there were times you hated me. The truth is, there were times I hated you, too. Not because I didn’t love you, but because I loved you too much. No one in my life has ever challenged me the ways you have. I wasn’t prepared to look at some of the things, in myself, you mirrored back at me. I didn’t realize that your becoming like me wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I haven’t always valued myself – the choices I’ve made – the woman I’ve become, and I struggled with the irony.
The last five years of our relationship have tested my patience, beliefs, boundaries, and sanity. There were days – months even – I was certain as soon as you turned eighteen, you would leave this house and never speak to me again. Some days I thought I would want that.
I’m so glad I was wrong.
I always thought being a good mother meant it was my job to shape you into a good person; to make sure you took the right path. I think that idea made it impossible for me to let go; to accept your choices when I didn’t agree. I got scared when you became the independent person I always wanted you to be, and I let my fear keep me from celebrating that independence and trusting your judgment. That is where I failed you.
I wish I had listened more – like, really listened – for what you were trying to say, instead of translating it into how I could help you.
I wish I had trusted in both of us more; in our abilities to handle situations, no matter how baffling, because we were always stronger than I thought.
I want you to know how proud I am of the person you’ve become despite, and in spite of, some of my best efforts to guide you. You are the strong woman I used to imagine you’d become…and so much more than I ever imagined. I want you to know that being your mom has made me a better person.
I always thought it was my job to teach you about life, but I fear you may not have learned as much from me as I have from you.
I promise to never try to take credit for your accomplishments.
I will however pray that someday, you will tell me there was something in your life you couldn’t have done without me.
I won’t mind if you lie.
This post was originally published on my blog Next Life, No Kids in February of 2015. nextlifenokids.com/2015/02/glad-i-was-wrong–a-letter-to-my-daughter.html